A 4th-century Description
This description of the “Saracens” (a pejorative term applied to Arabs and, later, specifically to Muslims) is from a Roman source, written in Latin in the 4th century. The author, Ammianus Marcellinus, was a Roman soldier and historian who served in wars against Shapur II. It offers an outsider’s understanding of Arabian life.
Book XIV.4: At this time also the Saracens, a race whom it is never desirable to have either for friends or enemies, ranging up and down the country, if ever they found anything, plundered it in a moment, like rapacious hawks who, if from on high they behold any prey, carry it off with a rapid swoop, or, if they fail in their attempt, do not tarry. And although, in recounting the career of the Prince Marcus, and once or twice subsequently, I remember having discussed the manners of this people, nevertheless I will now briefly enumerate a few more particulars concerning them.
Among these tribes, whose primary origin is derived from the cataracts of the Nile and the borders of the Blemmyae, all the men are warriors of equal rank; half naked, clad in colored cloaks down to the waist, overrunning different countries, with the aid of swift and active horses and speedy camels, alike in times of peace and war. Nor does any member of their tribe ever take plow in hand or cultivate a tree, or seek food by the tillage of the land; but they are perpetually wandering over various and extensive districts, having no home, no fixed abode or laws; nor can they endure to remain long in the same climate, no one district or country pleasing them for a continuance.
Their life is one continued wandering; their wives are hired, on special covenant, for a fixed time; and that there may be some appearance of marriage in the business, the intended wife, under the name of a dowry, offers a spear and a tent to her husband, with a right to quit him after a fixed day, if she should choose to do so. And it is inconceivable with what eagerness the individuals of both sexes give themselves up to matrimonial pleasures.
But as long as they live they wander about with such extensive and perpetual migrations, that the woman is married in one place, brings forth her children in another, and rears them at a distance from either place, no opportunity of remaining quiet being ever granted to her. They all live on venison, and are further supported on a great abundance of milk, and on many kinds of herbs, and on whatever birds they can catch by fowling. And we have seen a great many of them wholly ignorant of the use of either corn or wine.
A 9th-century Description
Writing in the 9th-century looking back, the litterateur Jahiz described how people in the ‘Abbasid period understood the relationship between various Arab groups.
Source, pp. 190-91.